Tuesday, August 1, 2017

San Juan Huts Durango to Moab Day 1: the adventure begins

The first in this series of posts, which explains why and who entered into this adventure, is here.

Day 1: Molas Pass to Bolam Hut via Rolling Mountain section of the Colorado Trail

July 22
5:30 am: Rally Drew and Lucy from the Holiday Inn Express for our last hot shower and non-self-cooked breakfast.
7 am: Meet up downtown Moab with the crew. We hired Red Rock Shuttle to take us and our bikes to the drop off spot.

Drive to Durango. Stop at a bike shop to put more sealant in Kenny's tire. Drop off at Molas Pass.
Fresh and full of nerves at Molas Pass Colorado Trail trailhead. L to R Kenny, Heather, Karl, Sally, Lucy, Drew.
12:30 pm begin riding.
12:31 end of tracking the time and beginning of adventure

We opted for the singletrack option on day 1.  The standard route took mostly gravel or dirt U.S. Forest Service roads, which are much, much faster and easier. The singletrack option promised 22 miles, 3750 feet of climbing, amazing scenery, and what every mountain biker lives for - skinny mountain singletrack.  Even with our late start, we decided the high-elevation singletrack would be worth it.  I'll let you see from the pictures, it was!

Shoulder-high wildflowers for miles

Above tree line. Lots of water everywhere as this was only a few weeks after the trail opened from snowpack.

Not without issue

Day 1 scenery was unsurpassed. Day 1 accidents, mechanicals, and weather were also unsurpassed. 

Karl tumbled 40 feet down the mountainside partially connected to his bike. Incredibly, he brushed himself off and rode on with only small abrasions on his arm and bike to show for his brush with a trip-ending tumble.

Getting back to the trail. The rocks in the foreground were the culprit.
The first of Karl's three flat tires. Miraculously, these three were the only flats of the entire trip. That's nearly 1400 combined miles on rocky trail and rural gravel roads with three flats.  Hooray for tubeless.

And there was that bit of hail and thunder.  My fingers were too cold and my courage too diminished to take the time to snap a picture of the intense 15 minutes of hail and hour of thunder and rain that we waited out and then rode in, respectively.  It would be the coldest I would be on the trip, and the episode put the fear of the monsoon season into all of us.


But by late afternoon, the rain mostly stopped and we continued to climb over the high peaks of the San Juan Mountains through fields of wildflowers, ...

past active groundwater features, ...

A big spring gushing from the rocks under that snowbank. There were also karst features and smaller springs on bedding planes.
in marmot territory,...
Two big fat marmots, center, warned us to pass on by with their squeaks.

and around herds of sheep.

The trail went on forever.

Still snow on July 22

We crested the last pass, still with a long way to go, but it was through another unbelievably beautiful basin.  

Mountain biker on singletrack, black dot in center, for scale. The very smooth orange mountainsides in the top center of the picture I think are pretty recent landslides.  I thought they might be mine dumps as we were near the old Graysill mine, but my mining geologist friend Ken doesn't think they look mine-dump-ish. Plus, according to a Google search, the Graysill mine produced a small amount of uranium, not enough activity to make those big dumps, and a big surprise since I assumed a mine here would be for a sulfide mineral seeing the massive oxidation and acid rock drainage visible in this landscape.

Skinny singletrack of the Rolling Mountain portion of the Colorado Trail

This creek was whitish and smelled of sulfur, as it contained runoff from oxidizing sulfide mineralization.  Quite a few of the smaller creeks we crossed on Day 1 had the same characteristics.  I know there is natural acid rock drainage in this area but I wonder of some of this is enhanced by old mine workings.  The rust-color on the peaks and scree slopes in today's pictures indicate loads of iron-sulfide mineralization in this region, which, when exposed to the atmosphere, releases acid, sulfur, and metals.

There was a fair share of hike a bike

The scenery went on for days.

Destination Bolam Hut

Finally, with dark closing in, after 7 hours on the trail having stopped only for storms, catching breath, retrieving people off mountainsides, and flat tires, we arrived at Bolam Hut at 7:30 pm. We had spent the entire day between 10,900 feet and 12,500 feet elevation, alternately riding and pushing our bikes up and down 3750 feet of vertical through some of the best scenery I've ever seen. Click here to see a 3-D satellite motion graphic of Drew's GPS track for the day. It's really cool.

The hut was a very welcome site. Kenny quickly started a fire to dry us out and Karl started a pot of super-oregano pasta and creamy mushroom soup (the kind I don't eat anymore due to partially hydrogenated oils but gladly chowed this night). The only thing that could have made this day more epic was a cooler full of microbrews at the hut, and there it was!

 We toasted the day and crashed out in our cozy, smelly, muddy hut.

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